I’ve often reflected on just how unhealthy being heavily involved in politics is. Besides the obvious waking up early to get to conferences/meetings/canvassing to eating poorly to allowing your fitness to fall by the wayside there is the rather less apparent emotional and mental strain activism and political activity can bring. If politics is Your Thing, if you devote your time and energy to campaigning and especially campaigning for a political party and ideology you are, in effect, delegating a substantial portion of your mental health and wellbeing to the fortunes, and to a certain extent, the leadership of your party.
At this point, I have to point out that doing a hugely self-indulgent piece like this is remarkably out of character for me as a self-conscious white, upper middle class male who has (thankfully) never really experienced any form of privation or hardships. Politics had never been a matter of life and death for me. I joined the Labour Party, like I’m sure many others of my background did, out of a sense of intellectual and ideological kinship with the Party, not out of a sense of ownership or wanting to give back to an organisation that had helped me, as many of my comrades did. I joined the Party as a precocious, self-confident 14 year old, sure in my belief in the triumph of socialism, my ideological connection far stronger than my emotional one. But if a week is a long time in politics, three years is an eternity. I have been through a general election, a council election and a European election, along with countless by-elections along the way. I have seen and (I hope) helped some of my friends become representatives of their communities, as well as seeing others lose after so much hard work. I have sat through meetings so dull and unpleasant I have considered faking illness to escape, but I have also been at campaign and policy discussions so energetic and inspiring that my faith in our ability to do good as a Party has returned. What I am trying to say in a long and convoluted way is that I have found, through three years of amazing and terrible experiences, an emotional connection to the Party of Hardie, Attlee and Wilson far stronger than any cleverly constructed economic argument. Three years may not be very long in terms of a lifetime, but I feel, and I think those who know me will feel, that I have grown up (and am still in the process of growing up) in this Party, however sad that may seem.
And so I guess the point of this wildly meandering and self-indulgent piece is to reassure myself that there is nothing that can ever convince me to stop doing what I’m doing. Despite feeling stuck as an activist between a leadership that seems more interested in discussing divisive and politically suicidal topics such as Trident and the Falklands than talking about how Labour will fix the economic and social injustices, as well as the structural failures of this country and a Party establishment that is highly undemocratic, unimaginative and unwilling to allow the grassroots to use their initiative, I will not stop working and campaigning for a Labour government and a Labour Britain. Despite frankly shameful fiascos such as the organisation of Young Labour National Conference and despite factional bullying and factional self-entitlement, I will always keep the faith. I scorn those who, claiming to be Labour stalwarts one week, give up and skulk off when times aren’t going well for their faction or their career the next week. The Labour movement is far more important than any of our factions or careers, and leaving when the going get tough shows the world how shallow your commitment is.
Politics is not, and cannot, always be about winning. Winning constantly brings about complacency and stagnation. It’s an almost inbuilt system for ensuring there is change of governments and of those in power. The Labour Party may not be going in the direction I would want it to go, but I know the only way to get it to change is by being in it, not by shouting on the sidelines. Some time this year I will get to the point where I will have been in the Labour Party for about a fifth of my life. I can guarantee with almost complete certainty that this proportion will never stop growing throughout my life.